A major terror trial has opened in Astana, hearing allegations that a group of radicals intended to blow the city’s landmark pyramid sky high and plotted to assassinate senior officials, Tengri News reports.
The iconic pyramid, called the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation and designed by British architect Norman Foster, has become a symbol of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s glitzy capital. It is also a symbol of religious tolerance, every few years hosting a Congress of World and Traditional Religions to promote inter-faith dialogue.
Prosecutor Malika Shashdauletova alleged that the group also planned to attack the HQ of the National Security Committee’s domestic intelligence service (KNB) and murder agents; plotted the assassinations of unidentified “senior figures of the Republic of Kazakhstan”; and planned an act of terrorism at the opening of Astana Opera, the city’s new opera house.
Shashdauletova said that alleged ringleader Serik Koshalakov opened a kebab shop near an Astana mosque to recruit followers to pursue the ultimate goal of setting up an Islamic caliphate in Kazakhstan.
Spoilt for choice with shopping malls mushrooming all around them, Almaty's shopaholics now have an option that harks back to earlier times, when shopping was a more refined experience, with the opening of a GUM department store in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital.
GUM (pronounced goom) is short for Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin, or main department store. The original in Moscow is an iconic landmark for Russian shoppers. Almaty's four-story shopping and dining complex is modeled on the ornate original in Moscow, which was built in the nineteenth century and survived through the Soviet era as the State Department Store.
Almaty's GUM has no connections with the Moscow original, but is trading on the famous brand. The Kazakhstani version is calling itself GUM Talipoff, with GUM here standing for Guldala Univermag, a partner company whose name translates as "flower of the steppe." The general director of the Almaty store is prominent Kazakh businessman Yerlan Talipov.
This new development is bucking the trend of ever-bigger mega malls that – like they have in Moscow – have proliferated around Almaty in recent years.
Almaty's GUM does not have such a prime location as the one in Moscow, which faces the Kremlin and stretches along one side of Red Square, but the development is expected to catalyze regeneration in a formerly rundown area of Almaty close to the Green Bazaar and the city's main mosque.
The complex opened its doors to the public in April but is very much a work in progress with construction workers still putting the final touches to its elegant brick façade.
Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have launched a direct railway linking their oil-and-gas-rich Caspian Sea regions, bypassing Uzbekistan. The new line promises to benefit "tens of countries" in the region, opening the remote areas to major markets, says Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan's state-run Kazinform news agency reports that Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and Nazarbayev opened the 869-kilometer stretch from Ozen in Kazakhstan to Etrek in Turkmenistan at their Bolashak-Serhetyak border crossing on May 11. The segment is designed to link up to the Iranian rail network.
"Not only will the new railway simplify exports of our goods but it will also attract transit shipments," Kazinform quoted Nazarbayev as saying at the opening ceremony. Reduced delays will offer the two sides “a significant competitive advantage."
Berdymukhamedov, who was in Kazakhstan on a state visit May 10 and 11, praised the new line, too. "Our project also means a connection to transport infrastructure in the eastern direction with access to such economic centers of global development as China, India and the Asia-Pacific," Kazinform quoted him as saying.
The two leaders also launched a new fiber-optic data line, which should link Kazakh networks with those of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran, and Turkmen networks (such as they exist) with Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia via Kazakhstan.
Landlocked Central Asian countries are often burdened by broad transport rivalries and suspicions. While closely cooperating in building new export routes for their hydrocarbons, they often shy away from transport teamwork.
Almaty’s arts scene has acquired an innovative new theater that aims to promote experimental drama and also prove that theater can be a profitable business.
Theatre BT launched in March as “an open, experimental platform,” director Aigul Sultanbekova said. BT stands for “business theater,” and the idea is to harness the corporate world to make an economic success out of the project -- a rarity in Kazakhstan, where few theaters turn a profit.
Theatre BT is offering five-day corporate training programs based on improvisational acting techniques, which should help finance its drama productions.
The training, conducted by psychologist Valeriy Bochkarev (who is the theater’s deputy director and also acts in its productions), in tandem with an actor, is targeted at business people and covers areas such as effective communication and conflict management.
“The main value driver is the business theater, for the time being, but in the long run we want to come to the point where the place would be self-sustainable,” Sultanbekova told EurasiaNet.org.
“My idea is that theater could be profitable; it could be economically viable, but of course you need to get to that point. [...] The market should be ready."
Most theaters in Kazakhstan receive heavy state subsidies and continue the Soviet tradition of charging low prices for tickets to make culture accessible for the masses.
Theatre BT’s prices won’t break the bank: It charges 2,000 tenge (around $13) for tickets. The repertoire includes Amerika, based on the novel by Franz Kafka, and O.k.no, based on the play Jean et Béatrice by Canadian playwright Carole Fréchette.
After appearing in Kyrgyzstan and Chechnya, leaflets expressing support for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Djokhar Tsarnaev have now emerged in central Kazakhstan.
The Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reports that fliers featuring Tsarnaev's picture, along with a note reading "Pray for Djokhar" in English, had been found plastered in a pedestrian underpass in Karaganda. Police have said they will charge anyone caught pasting the posters on public property.
"Should the individuals who put up the leaflets be identified, they will face an administrative offence for damaging public property. Plastering announcements and other posters is a sign of littering," Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted the regional police press service as saying.
Earlier Interfax reported that similar leaflets had appeared in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and in Russia's Chechnya region, Tsarnaev’s ancestral homeland.
Leaflets found on an avenue named after Russian President Vladimir Putin in downtown Grozny, the Chechen capital, called on people to raise funds for Tsarnaev and his family. Those fliers explained that Tsarnaev was in serious condition in a prison hospital in the United States and that he needed medical and legal aid. "Djokhar's parents appeal for your assistance," the posters said.
The United Kingdom has denied entry to a Kazakh artist who does not have hands because he cannot provide fingerprints, he says.
Anti-nuclear activist Karipbek Kuyukov was due to travel to Great Britain last month to attend a conference and show his paintings, he told Tengrinews.
“I was denied a visa on the grounds that my fingerprints were of unsatisfactory quality. I was asked for additional fingerprints, although I physically could not give them any fingerprints. My sister who was supposed to accompany me received a visa because they took her fingerprints. Why do they need fingerprints anyway?” Kuyukov told Tengrinews. Photos he provided the embassy clearly showed he is disabled, he added, noting that he did not have any problems when he successfully applied for an American visa last year.
The British Consulate in Almaty did not respond to requests for comment on May 6 within the time frame promised. Repeated calls to the British Embassy in Astana went unanswered.
Kuyukov, 44, was born near the Soviet Union’s largest nuclear test site, at Semipalatinsk in what is now northeastern Kazakhstan, and attributes his disability -- he was born without hands -- to the radioactive fallout from the tests.
The industrial city of Karaganda in northeastern Kazakhstan has seen an event utterly out of the ordinary for the former Soviet Union: a wedding between two women.
The couple organized the symbolic wedding to celebrate their union, the Vox Populi website reports in a photo story showing the elaborate celebration, which included all the usual trappings: from the white limousine that the bride and groom ride in during more traditional celebrations to the flutes of champagne to toast the happy couple.
The marriage has no legal force in Kazakhstan, where same-sex weddings are not recognized by law – but the two women, identified only as Karolina and Kristina, decided to tie the knot symbolically. As Vox Populi put it, “love has no law.”
The pictures showed the elegant couple – one wearing a white wedding dress and the other a white suit – popping champagne corks and following the usual tradition of stopping off at popular sites around the city to have a glass of champagne with wedding guests.
When the wedding party dropped into a shopping mall to buy some food, eyebrows were raised, said Vox Populi. It described onlookers' mood as “spiteful,” with “hostile looks from the shoppers, whispering into walkie-talkies by the security guards, surprised looks from the salespeople.”
The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community tends not to be very visible in Kazakhstan, where anecdotal evidence suggests that members face widespread discrimination.
Vox Populi’s story on the wedding sparked a lively discussion thread, with some participants openly and proudly voicing those prejudices while others stood up in defense of LGBT rights.
The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has launched a criminal investigation into alleged corruption at a London-listed natural resources giant with strong links to Kazakhstan, British media report.
The SFO probe targets the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a company with interests in the energy and mining sectors mainly in Kazakhstan but also in China, Brazil and some African states. It is partially owned by three oligarchs believed to have powerful connections in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government also holds a stake.
“The focus of the investigation will be fraud, bribery and corruption relating to the activities of the company or its subsidiaries in Kazakhstan and Africa,” The Guardian newspaper quoted the SFO – an arm of the British government – as saying in an April 25 statement.
ENRC, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, said in a statement the same day that it “is assisting and cooperating fully with the SFO” and “is committed to a full and transparent investigation of its procedures and conduct.”
The news follows a troubled period for ENRC, whose chairman Mehmet Dalman resigned on April 23, less than two weeks after a law firm appointed by ENRC to pursue an internal inquiry into the corruption allegations – first made by a whistleblower – was abruptly replaced.
Kazakhstan’s social affairs minister was pelted with eggs Friday while addressing the government’s controversial pension reforms at a lively press conference.
In a show of protest rare for Kazakhstan, Minister of Labor and Social Protection Serik Abdenov was targeted as he attempted to explain why the government is seeking to raise the pension age for women from 58 to 63 over the next decade. The reform, which would bring the female retirement age into line with the male one, has passed its first reading in the lower house of parliament (with several more stages to go before it becomes law), raising a storm of controversy.
Abdenov called the briefing in Almaty on April 26 to douse the flames of the dispute – but one protestor was not in the mood for listening. Activist Andrey Tsukanov got up and hurled two eggs at the minister, Tengri News reports. A video posted by Radio Azattyq showed Abdenov batting away the make-do missiles.
Abdenov has become the target of vilification and ridicule in the past week after another unsuccessful attempt to defend Astana’s pension reforms to a group of workers in Temirtau, an industrial city in eastern Kazakhstan, fell flat.
Asked why women should work for five more years, Abdenov got a little lost for words. “You have to work and work,” he said, to guffaws of laughter from the audience,” because, my dear fellow countrymen, because, because.”
Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is bucking a trend by pooh-poohing scaremongering about the security threat that the Central Asian region will face after NATO troops finish withdrawing from Afghanistan next year.
Observers have voiced apprehension that the region will confront rising challenges from threats such as terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking that could destabilize the entire Central Asia region. But Nazarbayev does not subscribe to that view.
“I will say it directly: I do not accept the catastrophic theories that we read and hear from various sides,” he said on April 25, adding that he did not believe that there was some sort of “countdown timer” running, ticking off the days before coalition forces withdraw and disaster strikes.
Nazarbayev was speaking at the Eurasian Media Forum in Astana, a jamboree of assorted international media professionals and pundits organized by his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva to discuss global and regional problems.
His remarks fly in the face of accepted wisdom about the mounting security threat that Central Asian states will struggle to cope with after 2014.
Nazarbayev’s own security chief, Nurtay Abykayev, is less insouciant than his boss, warning last month of “growing threats of instability.” “We are concerned by the ongoing activeness of terrorist and extremist organizations in the region, particularly in the run-up to the departure of NATO forces from Afghanistan.”